While it was in the spirit of the holiday, it turns out I aired my grievances a touch early last Friday since there was to be so much ahead to kvetch about. My approach to this Bucks team is generally glass-half-full given their championship pedigree, injuries, and continued good record (banking all those wins really came in handy). With perhaps the season’s most arduous stretch behind them, however, it’s time to lick the wounds. Obviously, opening new ones needs to be avoided, but the more pressing matter is to not deepen Milwaukee’s current woes. Emerging from this skid does not, however, require changing what they can control... with the notable exception of hitting open three-point looks. It will require better luck in areas they can’t as easily control, though, namely injuries.
Giannis Antetokounmpo: B (last week: A+)
3 GP, 37.8 MPG, .473/.111/.675, 32.7 PPG, 14.7 RPG, 5.7 APG, 5.0 TPG, 1.0 SPG, 0.0 BPG
More than ever, it’s tough to evaluate Giannis’ week. He absolutely carried a depleted offense in multiple games, but there’s no doubt that both his uncharacteristic errors and shifting to midrange chucker mode in OT cost them a win on Wednesday. Giannis seems to benefit more than any other Buck from having Holiday (and Middleton) healthy, borne out by this unprecedented net rating. As Frank then duly notes, bizarro shooting from deep has a bit to do with this, but this all seems too fluky to continue for an inner-circle MVP candidate... right?
Jrue Holiday: A- (last week: B)
2 GP, 35.3 MPG, .464/.417/.909, 20.5 PPG, 4.5 RPG, 6.0 APG, 4.0 TPG, 1.5 SPG, 0.0 BPG
The only Holiday worth celebrating this December 25th for Bucks fans, he was one of the team’s few reliable sources for efficient scoring and playmaking while attacking Boston’s improving defense. As we’re accustomed to, usually a big night on one end for him means a less-than-ideal effort on the other, evidenced by Jayson Tatum’s line. I’m guilty of not fully appreciating how much he can bring on offense, though, as his steadier creation would have helped a lot in Chicago. At least his current illness seems transient because Milwaukee missed him more than anyone—even Middleton—in that one.
Brook Lopez: A- (last week: A)
3 GP, 33.2 MPG, .611/.273/.667, 17.7 PPG, 5.3 RPG, 0.7 APG, 1.3 TPG, 1.0 SPG, 1.7 BPG
Aside from being bitten by outside-shooting woes like most other Bucks, Lopez picked up more of the scoring slack than anyone this week. They’re calling his number a lot in the paint lately and his contributions to team rebounding loomed sneakily large Wednesday evening. I did notice him getting beat a bit more regularly around the rim by driving Celtics, however, which could be a fatigue issue. Whether that’s because of the long road trip or his cumulative workload I’m not sure, but some upcoming single-minute stints from Ibaka on larger bigs wouldn’t be a bad idea.
Grayson Allen: C (last week: B+)
3 GP, 28.3 MPG, .308/.211/1.000, 8.0 PPG, 3.7 RPG, 1.3 APG, 1.0 TPG, 0.7 SPG, 0.0 BPG
Those calling for him to shoot more after the two losses out east must have been pleased by his fourteen 3PA last time out, I assume. I’m not going to prod the Allen pitchfork mob too much, but no Buck was more snakebitten by inaccuracy from downtown. Eleven of those attempts did not feature a Bull within six feet of Allen, which are absolutely the shots you want him taking. He usually eschews higher three-point volume when better defenses cover him more earnestly in favor of drives, so when he dialed back the penetration in favor of more open shots, you can’t be mad about it. Instead, just be disappointed that fewer jumpers went in like you are for every Buck.
Bobby Portis: B+ (last week: B+)
3 GP, 25.9 MPG, .424/.273/.750, 11.3 PPG, 10.7 RPG, 0.7 APG, 1.0 TPG, 0.0 SPG, 0.0 BPG
While Portis didn’t inspire any confidence regarding continued doubts about his playability versus Boston, he’s currently the only scorer off the bench and led some pretty successful reserve-heavy lineups in the other matchups. I’m starting to give up on his three-point shot in the short term—it will take a significant hot streak for him to even break 34%—but the good news is that his jumper finds nylon often enough closer in. Those floaters and hooks are nothing new, but the stepbacks in the longer midrange are a nice addition.
Jevon Carter: C- (last week: D+)
3 GP, 21.7 MPG, .389/.250/1.000, 5.7 PPG, 2.0 RPG, 1.3 APG, 1.7 TPG, 1.0 SPG, 0.3 BPG
Providing next to nothing offensively at present, Carter is finally crashing down to earth after overachieving for basically his entire Milwaukee tenure. He’s still a good option at the ends of possessions when he spots up and an important defender—he kept Zach LaVine in check for a big chunk of the Bulls contest—but anything more than that just isn’t happening. As I expected, he lacked the size to defend larger Celtics scorers any more effectively than his backcourt colleagues ever have. He’s yet another Buck that doesn’t match up well with that roster.
Pat Connaughton: B (last week: A-)
3 GP, 24.5 MPG, .389/.400/.250, 7.0 PPG, 4.7 RPG, 2.0 APG, 0.7 TPG, 0.3 SPG, 0.0 BPG
Before ending his week with a thud, Connaughton was quietly putting together a sustained stretch of quality work. While these outings lacked the fireworks we enjoyed from him in seasons past, I’m somewhat optimistic of more white-hot shooting performances to come with his first month after injury now in the rearview. He also appears slightly more comfortable in the new defensive scheme, though it’s coming in baby steps.
Joe Ingles: D+ (last week: C-)
3 GP, 18.7 MPG, .278/.214/1.000, 5.3 PPG, 1.7 RPG, 1.7 APG, 1.7 TPG, 0.3 SPG, 0.0 BPG
Speaking of incremental progress, Ingles’ recovery into... something hopefully resembling his former self continues very slowly. One 3/6 night behind the arc might be all he needs to find a rhythm, and that doesn’t seem like overly wishful thinking. As a distributor, he also has work to do within the team’s flow because his passes are too often finding opponents’ hands despite making good reads. Simply put, he needs a bit more time, and a sample of five games after eleven months off is unequivocally too small to draw sweeping conclusions from—for any player.
George Hill: A- (last week: A-)
1 GP, 28 MIN, .429/.000/1.000, 8 PTS, 1 REB, 1 AST, 1 TOV, 2 STL, 0 BLK
After over a week off, Hill returned to the floor with aplomb in Wednesday’s first half, even throwing down his second dunk of the year on a fastbreak. With Carter’s warts becoming pretty obvious in recent weeks, Milwaukee could use more of his steadiness while they lack their full complement of ballhandlers. Unfortunately, he’s doubtful tonight with a non-COVID illness, adding further pressure to a Bucks offense that needs relief.
Wesley Matthews: C (last week: B)
2 GP, 22.8 MPG, .143/.167/1.000, 2.5 PPG, 3.0 RPG, 2.0 APG, 0.5 TPG, 1.0 SPG, 1.0 BPG
While Kevin Durant didn’t give the Bucks too much trouble last Friday, it was a mild surprise to see Matthews get a DNP-CD. Playing him likely wouldn’t have made much of a difference besides keeping Holiday’s legs a little fresher, which maybe could have led to one or two fewer bricks. Since the thirteen-year vet really isn’t giving Milwaukee any scoring, it would be nice if his defense on Tatum and DeMar DeRozan was more than merely adequate in the short shifts he put in on these killer wings. At the same time, no one is guarding those players any better right now than him, including...
MarJon Beauchamp: C (last week: A)
3 GP, 6.9 MPG, .400/.429/.000, 3.7 PPG, 0.3 RPG, 0.0 APG, 0.0 TPG, 0.0 SPG, 0.0 BPG
To be clear, the rookie is not doing a bad job on the likes of KD and DDR, but even with a few inches more than most of the Bucks’ regular wings or backcourt, Beauchamp isn’t distinguishing himself as a more preferable option. I know some wanted to see him on Tatum, but after his quick hook at United Center (-7 in just two minutes) due in part to being worked by DeRozan on a couple of trips, I don’t think he’d have been a good idea on a 24-year-old MVP favorite. He’s still shooting well at least, but the jury is still out on whether he’s steady enough to feature more heavily in the offense. He might be!
Mike Budenholzer: C (last week: B+)
0-3 W-L, 106.4 ORtg (30th), 120.5 DRtg (23rd), -14.1 NetRtg (30th)
This grade is based on results (s/o future majority owner Wes Edens) over process because an offense that generates 22.3 wide-open threes per game in a week (third highest in the league) is at least doing some things right. While more threes falling won’t solve all their issues, the more the Bucks miss, the more teams like the Bulls will dare them to shoot while staying closer to the basket. In turn, their options dwindle. I can excuse the defensive numbers a bit after running into two prolific shotmaking squads—take a look at Boston’s success on Christmas even with Milwaukee in close proximity—underscoring that defensive execution isn’t the issue currently. Bud’s play-calling isn’t either, hence the breadth of open triples and its balance with a solid volume inside. It sometimes comes down to decision-making in the moment, be it Giannis’ shot selection or checking down inbounds options on ATOs, almost as much as it does firing blanks from three-point land.
Incomplete: Sandro Mamukelashvili (1 GP, 4 MIN), Jordan Nwora (1 GP, 3 MIN), Thanasis Antetokounmpo (1 GP, 3 MIN), Serge Ibaka (DNP), A.J. Green (DNP), Khris Middleton (injured)
As many have noticed, the Bucks’ schedule lately is a lot easier than the lead-in to Christmas, so there are plenty of waters ahead to regain control of the ship, as rocky as they’ve been. I don’t think this is the time for major soul-searching or philosophical change, and I’m not just saying that because it’s a four-game losing streak in late December (though that’s as good a reason as any). Milwaukee has the game plan to beat any opponent, things just look bad when it’s being micturated upon. Now that the Bucks are back in their fair city, the idea is to recommit to it, not procure a new one.
How would you grade the Bucks’ performance this past week?
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What are your individual grades? Let me know in the comments below.